When Russia issues a reminder that it wants to buy an advanced, helicopter-carrying warship from France that’s built for amphibious assaults — hello all you folks along the Black, Baltic and Caspian Seas — then it’s pressing deeper its own reset button on altered relations with the United States and NATO.That is how John Vinocur starts his (aptly-entitled) article, Russia Tries to Control the Reset Button.
The Americans can insist that scrapping plans for a ground-based missile shield on Moscow’s borders is all about Iran and not Russia, and that the Obama administration has traded away nothing to the Russians in the process.
But the Kremlin has made clear its will to extend what it considers a triumph. It’s talking up a plan that Russia sees as containing an alliance-splitting downside for the United States whichever way it turns.
The latest gambit is the warship purchase bid. Trumpeted by Russia three times over the last month — think Moscow wants to grab Europe’s attention? — and confirmed by the French Defense Ministry, the Russian proposal involves buying a 21,300-ton Mistral class helicopter carrier and eventual joint production of four or five more.
A response of silence over the long term from the American side could look like another cave-in to Russia in the minds of the European and Central Asian allies who consider Moscow to have vetoed the ground-based missile defense system.
Even more problematically, should a deal for the helicopter carriers materialize, it would open the door — at least in the view of an American specialist on international arms transactions — for European allies to sell arms to China.
That’s a horrific idea for the American military, yet it remains a suspended project on a low flame inside the European Union. Indeed, China arms sales continue to have the open backing of President Nicolas Sarkozy.
But how does the United States say no nowadays to Russia (and France, if it agrees to build the ship and share the technology) on a major military transfer when the administration does not want to consider Russia a strategic threat?
…Russia, though, is exulting in a process in which its influence appears to be growing while American policy setbacks wobble from diminished control over events in Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan to taunting Russian arms sales to Venezuela.
In relation to the ship purchase talks — against the background of Russia’s invasion of Georgia last year and its virtual annexation of two Georgian provinces — the Russian Navy’s commander in chief, Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky, rhapsodized over how he could have done the Georgia job in 40 minutes instead of 26 hours if he had had the French warship.